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PenAir To Establish New Base In Portland To Fly To Smaller Northwest Cities

An Anchorage-based commuter airline is opening a new hub in Portland. Peninsula Airways, better known as PenAir, is a well-established Alaska carrier that only recently branched out to the Lower 48.

PenAir's vice-president of marketing and sales Missy Roberts said her airline has a list of Northwest cities it's looking at.

"We've had several -- or I should say, many -- calls from people throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho wanting service in their respective communities,” she said.

PenAir plans to base two or three 30-passenger Saab 340 turboprop aircraft at Portland International Airport. Initial service starts from there to Crescent City in far northern California in September with an additional route to Klamath Falls likely to start in November.

The economics of small town airline service are tricky. The Crescent City route is made possible by a $6.5 million subsidy over two years from the federal government.

PenAir is negotiating with the City of Klamath Falls on a contract to guarantee some minimum level of ticket sales before initiating service there. The city owns Klamath Regional Airport.

One of PenAir's selling points to local communities is its code-share agreement with partner Alaska Airlines to facilitate connecting flights and provide frequent flier miles.

"We have a flight attendant and a lavatory" on the Saab 340 aircraft, Roberts added. "Both are equally important on our flights."

"Commercial air service is a vital component in economic development and transportation access across Southern and Eastern Oregon,” Klamath County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Charles Massie said in a statement Monday. “This will help move our community forward in many ways."

Neither Klamath Falls nor Crescent City has commercial airline service right now. They were served until recently by SkyWest -- operating as United Express -- with daily flights to San Francisco. SkyWest pulled out as it retired its 30-seat Embraer 120 Brasilia turboprop planes and transitioned to an all-jet fleet.

The U.S. Department of Transportation currently subsidizes commuter airlines to serve approximately 163 rural communities across the country that otherwise would not receive any scheduled air service. The subsidy program is called Essential Air Service.

The only other route in the Northwest currently subsidized by the federal government is Pendleton-Portland, which SeaPort Airlines flies three times per weekday in a 9-passenger Cessna Caravan.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.